About the Artist
Virgil Leih grew up in a family of woodworkers. At age four, he was cleaning up the worksite. By age eight, he was running power tools. At the same age, a visit to the Grand Yellowstone Lodge introduced him to the “scale, beauty and majesty” of log construction. “I was smitten,” he recalls.
He continued to work as a builder and cabinet maker through college in California and while attending graduate school in Minnestoa. As a young professional, his skills were used on volunteer construction trips and home projects.
In the 1990s, having started a second career as an executive recruiter and establishing a recruiting firm, he undertook the construction of a log home on an island in northern Minnesota. That project involved hand-peeling 70-foot red pines, sanding them; then hand-scribing and cutting the interlocking saddle joints. The cabin was finished in time for a millennium celebration on New Year’s Eve 1999.
Looking for a new challenge, Virgil found some examples from wood turners working on log pieces. He searched for a lathe to turn tree trunks and found a 1917 Oliver open gap pattern maker’s lathe for sale in Massachusetts. He moved the 7,500-pound workhorse to a friend’s manufacturing facility in Bloomington, MN. This began the next phase of his life in sculptural wood turning.
“As I begin to peel away the decades of growth, the inner beauty begins to reveal itself,” Virgil says. “The heartwood’s texture and color is very different than the lighter new growth located near the bark. A sphere or a dome piece shows the full life of the tree, its hidden beauty wonderfully preserved. At the very center of the heartwood are the earliest years of its life, with each ring adding to its history, size, unique color and beauty. What beautiful contrast the rings produce, moving from dark to light, emphasizing the growth old to new.”
“Every object of art I produce is already hidden inside the tree trunk waiting to be revealed and enjoyed,” Virgil says. “It is such a privilege to reveal what is inside unseen.”
Soli Deo Gloria